15 resources to make you a stronger visual communicator in 2015


“But wait…” you might ask.

“Why do I need to be a better visual communicator anyway?”

Well, here are a couple of reasons.pm_sketchnote

  • 90% of all information transmitted to the brain is VISUAL.
  • Visuals are processed in our brains 60,000 times faster than text
  • presenters who use visual aids are 43% more effective in persuading audience members to take a desired course of action than presenters who don’t use visuals.
  • Visuals express ideas quickly – in a snapshot. Far faster than if the same information were to be conveyed in text.

Think about it. Why are more and more businesses investing thousands of dollars to create videos for their websites? Why are companies hiring visual designers to create infographics to help them communicate with their customers? The numbers show that visuals really work. Whether it’s attracting the attention of your target audience, or communicating complex information in a simple way, or just capturing interest and facilitating the understanding of a topic… it pays to be a strong visual communicator.

But…but… I can’t draw!

Can’t draw? Not a problem. You don’t have to be able to draw well to be a strong visual communicator. In fact, it’s not about drawing at all. It’s about making visuals a part of your thinking and communicating process. It’s about:

  • learning how to use symbols
  • using words and images together
  • removing unnecessary words that don’t add value
  • illustrating your ideas using diagrams
  • getting comfortable using a marker and a whiteboard to convey your thoughts
  • finding the right images to use in your presentation

All this is “figureoutable” (as Marie Forleo would say). There are hundreds of tools, books, courses, and apps to help you become a better visual communicator. The good news is… you don’t have to spend hours scouring the web to find these gems… because I’ve done the scouring for you. Here are 15 ways to help you up your visual communication skills in 2015.

5 courses to make you a better visual storyteller

1. Sketchnote schoolsketchnote_YNAB
20 to 30 minutes to read (but you’ll need to spend time practising afterwards!)
Cost: Free

This is a series of 6 blogposts that helps you learn the basic skills and techniques for putting your thoughts on paper using a combination of doodles, visuals, symbols, text and containers. Although it’s actually to help you learn how to take visual (sketch)notes at a conference, the skills are the same for when you need to convey your thoughts visually as well.

I read through these posts and then attended a webinar on budgeting. Here’s my first attempt at putting what I learnt into practice (see image on the right).

2. Data visualisation fundamentals
Time: 3 hours 41 minutes (course duration)
Cost: You need to be a member of Lynda.com to do the course… it’s $25 per month, but there are tonnes of courses to learn.. and once you’re done learning the main few that you’re interested in, you can discontinue your membership.

If a lot of your work revolves around numbers, or using numbers to present arguments, then this course will get you well versed in the fundamentals of data visualisation. Here’s an excerpt from their course description.

Bill Shander shows how to understand your data and your audience, craft the story you need to tell, and determine the best visual model and details to use for that story.


Graphic design for business professionals
Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

Cost: $25 month (Lynda.com membership)

Remember how I mentioned you don’t have to be good at drawing or design to be a good visual communicator? Well, if you think you’re in that boat, then this course is a good one… Justin Seeley shares graphic design secrets anyone can apply to make their business documents look great. No graphic design knowledge necessary!

4. Vimeo Video School
Time: as much time as you can spend.
Cost: Free

The folks at Vimeo have created an entire section of video lessons on how to take better photos and make better videos from scratch through lessons, tutorials, and sage advice from their friendly personal creativity consultants.

5. Advanced visual storytelling
Cost: $15
Time: 2 hours 45 minutes (course materials)

There are many tools to execute a successful story both verbally and visually and this workshop will teach you how.

3 eBooks to help you improve your visual vocabulary

6. 10 and 1/2 commandments of visual thinking
This is a must read from Dan Roam (the guy who wrote Back of the Napkin). In this change manifesto, he writes all about using our innate ability to see, in order to discover and develop our ideas intuitively and share them with other people in a way that is easy from them to digest. That, in my opinion, is the most critical skill for any change manager or internal communicator to have under his/her belt.

7. Business Guide to Visual Communication by Visage
Visage is a company that provides data visualisation and custom report design services. I am not affiliated with them, nor are they paying me to say any of this, but they do some awesome work in the visual communication space. Plus, they’ve produced a series of free ebooks that provide some great insights on creating visual documents that really engage the reader. This is an excerpt from the introduction of their ebook entitled “The business guide to visual communications”.

Communication as a whole, both in media and the
enterprise, is becoming increasingly visual. But successful content is not
simply created from words and pictures thrown together. It is crafted with
intent, understanding and a solid framework. This guide will show you
why visual communication works—and how to make it work for you.

Need I say more?

8. Slidedocs
Nancy Duarte has written some amazing bestsellers like Resonate and Slideology. Slidedocs, is her latest project which helps you spread your smart thinking by combining visual communications with short chunks of written copy. Most organisations thrive on using Microsoft PowerPoint as a word processor. Trouble with that is that sometimes, those slide documents, are used as presentation slides… and that’s just too many words for anyone to digest.

Anyway, this resource is a keeper. You can even download the entire book for free in PowerPoint format… or you can read it online directly from your browser.

2 Videos that will open your eyes to thinking visually

9. Dan Roam: Blah Blah Blah What to do when words don’t work

10. Don Moyer: Visual Thinking Course

5 free visual resources to make more use of at work 

11. pixlr (the Photoshop alternative)
Sometimes, you need to do a quick touch up on an image to use it on your intranet post or Powerpoint presentation. But you don’t have Adobe Photoshop installed on your computer. What do you do? Use pixlr. It has almost all the main (common) tools that you would use normally use photoshop for. You can crop, resize, change the colour settings, edit, add text, adjust transparency and almost anything else that you might need to do with an image. Best part? It’s free!

And if you need to just spice up a pic by adding some visual effects, use pixlr express instead.

12. Get free fonts to use (legally) from fontsquirrel or dafont.
If you’re looking for a creative (different) font to use on your slides or newsletter or document, you can find hundreds (most of which are free to use) on either of these sites. Just download and install on our Mac or PC. And you’re ready to use. Just remember that if you are going to send your PowerPoint or Word document to another person, that person will also need to have that font installed on their computer in order to see it. However, what I would recommend is either creating an image file with the font, or converting your document into a PDF file, then you won’t have to worry about whether or not the other person has that font installed. 

13. Search for creative commons images that you can use (non-commercially)
Two of the best sites you can use to find images under the creative commons license are:

When searching for images, be sure to click on the licence option “Creative Commons only” (this ensures that you don’t unintentionally infringe on any copyrights or licensing laws).

Screen Shot 2014-12-31 at 3.20.13 PM

14. Find data visualisation inspiration on visual.ly
If you have a project that you need to visually explain, or if you have a fairly complex topic to talk about, try searching for that topic on visual.ly and see if anyone has already created an infographic that communicates it in a digestible format.

15. Search for icons on iconmonstr
Sometimes, all you’re looking for is a icon. Or a set of symbols. This site has a large collection of glyph icons created by a German artist free to modify and use without attribution. I’ve used countless of their icons on documents, presentation slides and even animations.

So there it is. There’s heaps of other sites and tools that are immensely useful for anyone who wants to up their visual communication skills, but if you’re wondering where to start, start with these. If you have any other resources to add, please drop me a comment below! Happy new year! Here’s to an awesome 2015 ahead!

Photo credit: Luigi Mengato – Sketchnote Project Management

Written by Dinesh Rudra